One Africa Media (OAM) CEO Justin Clarke, who is also co-founder and CEO of Private Property in South Africa, has beaten other southern African companies to win the emerging category award in the prestigious EY World Entrepreneur 2014 - a competition he had initially dismissed entering on the misplaced belief he was under qualified.
The award effectively means his peers have acknowledged Clarke's contribution to the southern African economy and the role he has played in founding the Private Property brand, which is now considered South Africa's leading real estate portal.
OAM owns market-leading businesses in the real estate, jobs, cars and travel online classified sectors in Africa. Its businesses and operations employ more than 600 people in three hubs in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya with satellite offices in Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Uganda - all countries with rapidly-growing gross domestic products (GDP) and internet and mobile penetration rates.
Last year OAM, previously named Private Property Holdings, secured a $25 million round of investment for expanding its operations across Africa. The company operates internet classified businesses in cars, travel, real estate and jobs and secured $20 million from Australian-listed jobs portal SEEK.
The EY award programme recognises entrepreneurs who demonstrate excellence and extraordinary success in innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their businesses and communities. Information technology services group EOH CEO Asher Bohbot, who won the southern African master category, now competes against winning entrepreneurs from more than 50 countries for the one of the most coveted global business awards when the EY World Entrepreneur Awards are held in Monte Carlo next June.
Previous African winners include James Mwangi, CEO and MD of Kenya's Equity Bank Limited who took the 2012 global title and the late Bill Lynch of Imperial Holding who, in 2005, became the first South African to win the global event.
Clarke says the award provided the company the platform on which to consolidate a marketing and education strategy. Previously the group had focussed on building the brands individually, but OAM was "a big story for South Africa and Africa" and the recognition meant "taking advantage of being thrust into the limelight".
"This is an honour, particularly given the number of entrepreneurs across southern Africa, but it also affords the opportunity to showcase the holding company, namely OAM, as, while people know about the individual brands, few realise they fall under the same umbrella - or that we are even a South African company," he says.
Since the announcement of his success was made last week, he has already received investment enquiries from institutional investors in a move that could assist OAM towards its goal for becoming a $1 billion company within six years. That milestone would enable him to consider a listing on the US stock market Nasdaq. Clarke says his largest competitors play on the international arena, attracting the top brains in the field - and now OAM has the opportunity to maximise on also drawing that talent.
He also hopes the award would assist in cutting through South Africa's red tape, visas and work permits when recruiting international skills into the country for this industry.
He says a significant portion of OAM is currently owned by Tiger Global Management, the New York-based venture capital fund that already partners with SEEK in other ventures across Asia and Latin America. That investment was heralded as "a real endorsement of Africa's online potential" as when OAM began investing in local entrepreneurs in east and west Africa in 2010, the internet was a relative unknown.
This had enabled OAM to grow organically, but in the year ahead of the capitalisation, the group had experienced significant competition growth in the markets. Clarke says SEEK's investment had enabled the group to accelerate growth in its existing businesses, consolidate ownership, and expand operations to capitalise on the large market opportunities across the continent.
"While this award remains an honour, the hard work lies ahead as OAM takes advantage of 'the perfect storm' created from the company being ahead on the internet curve, particularly in Africa where access to fast connectivity only came with the landing of the undersea cables around 2009; being leaders in the markets in which we operate and the opportunities inherent in the economic growth Africa presents with its burgeoning middle-class and urbanisation," Clarke says.